They may have problems behind the scenes, but no one gets their act together for a World Cup like the Nationalmannschaft
On the face of it, German fans are as confident as ever about their team’s chances in South Africa. In a poll in the always-popular Kicker magazine, 75 per cent of those surveyed thought they would reach the semi-finals at the very least and the rest were upbeat enough to look into their crystal ball and see Michael Ballack lifting the trophy.
The optimism is easily understood. Germany’s track record in World Cup finals is one of wall-to-wall glory – triple champions, runners-up on four occasions and three times third – and when it comes to pre-tournament preparation, tactical discipline, cool heads under pressure and the uncanny ability to conjure game-breaking moments from nowhere, they have few, if any, peers.
But as impressive as the vox pop numbers are, no one could possibly describe the mood on the ground as resolutely euphoric.
Germany’s soporific performance in the 1-0 friendly loss to Argentina in March sparked rage and disappointment at Munich’s Allianz Arena and these days the media is awash with negative stories – most of them relating to the innumerable internationals either struggling for form (the injured Ballack, defender Serdar Tasci and striker Lukas Podolski to name just three) or not playing regularly for their clubs (Bayern Munich strikers Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose).
Once regarded as an untouchable strategic genius, Bundestrainer Joachim Low is increasingly subject to criticism. There is a school of thought, albeit highly tendentious, that he favours players from his native south-west, while another stick to beat him with is the assertion that he does not select anyone with strong opinions – a case in point being the discarded Werder Bremen midfield warrior Torsten Frings.
Undeniably, public opinion has turned sharply against Low since the controversial breakdown of his contract-extension talks early this year. Both the German FA and several newspapers had no qualms portraying him and team manager Oliver Bierhoff as power and money-crazed – and, though that is far from the whole truth, mud does tend to stick.
While the Nationalmannschaft remains a highly trusted, almost mythical brand, the same reverence by no means extends to every individual in the camp, with the likes of Low, Bierhoff, FA president Theo Zwanziger and a host of high-profile stars in the dock.
A certain dissatisfaction is in the air and the only question is how are the squad going to respond to the rising hackles. Will they up their game, as they normally do in such times, or buckle under it ?
The view from Germany
“Of course I cannot say for certain that Germany will win a fourth world title, football is no exact science, but I think we definitely will be one of the main contenders, along with Brazil, Argentina and Spain. We are a nation which lives for a tournament. We have stronger nerves than most, never panic and know how to close out a win.“
Georg Schwarzenbeck, World Cup winner 1974
“It’s a real concern that many of our attackers are short of form or match practice. Podolski is out of sorts at Koln, while the Bayern men Klose and Gomez are often warming the bench. I’d want a couple of goalgetters in South Africa with their eye in. We have our class acts like Ballack, Lahm and Schweinsteiger. However I fear we don’t have the strength in depth to go further than the quarter-finals. Hope I’m wrong.”
Klaus Fischer, World Cup runner-up in 1982